Sometimes, I imagine a shuttle running between Lady de B's house and mine rather like the underground trains that once carried four million letters a day between Paddington and Whitechapel. Our zippy little shuttle wouldn’t transport the Royal Mail. It would carry such precious cargo as extra chairs, baskets, platters, ice cream makers, jelly bags, jam pans, barbecues, tablecloths, ice buckets, stick blenders, mandolins, baking sheets and roasting tins. A truly moveable feast - or the furnishings for one - running the mile or so between my house and hers. It’s not unheard of for me to admire a plate in her house and for her to say, ‘Well, you should like it, it’s yours’.
We cook together so often, plan parties together, eat at one another’s tables with such regularity, that I can find the cling film or cinnamon or colander in her kitchen as easily as I can in my own. I know where the hot spots are in her oven. (Well, at least I did. She’s just got a swanky new Lacanche, and though we’ve been formally introduced, we’re yet to get to know one another intimately over roasted meats, slow-cooked stews, bubbling gratins and biscuits.)
Vanessa and I share recipes obsessively, whether it’s excitably garbled descriptions of dishes we’ve eaten on holidays or in restaurants, inspirations ripped from magazines, or pristine, bookmarked perfection in the pages of the latest cook books.
When Vanessa said she was making gravadlax for Easter lunch, I’d quite forgotten that I’d lent her Falling Cloudberries: a world of family recipes, one of my favourite books because it is filled not just with lovely recipes, but family, history and stories. In her introduction, Tessa Kiros writes ‘These are the recipes I grew up with: the recipes that have woven their way through the neighbourhoods of my mind, past indifference and into love’
Born in London to a Greek Cypriot father and a Finnish mother, Kiros’s childhood in Africa was followed by stints cooking all over the world before settling in Tuscany with her Italian husband. It’s hardly surprising her cooking is as diverse as it is delicious. There’s skordalia and semifreddo, couscous and ceviche, tom ka gai and crème brûlée, and in the middle of all that, her mother’s recipe for gravadlax, the happiest of beginnings for our happy Easter feast.
Gravadlax with dill cucumbers
Vanessa bought the salmon from Steve Hatt, fourth-generation fish monger and the north London fisheratti’s piscine purveyor of choice. He advises that for gravadlax, a larger, more mature salmon that had had a chance to build up some fat responds best to the salt and sugar cure. Get the best your pocket can stand, but after that it’s all very easy.
Serves about 20.
300g (10 ½ oz) caster (superfine) sugar
200g (7oz) coarse salt
150g (5oz) dill, chopped
2 whole fillets of salmon, skin left on, but cleaned and small bones removed
For the dill cucumbers:
1 tbsp chopped dill
100ml (3 ½ fl oz) white wine vinegar
2 heaped tbsps caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp salt
Finnish mustard (See below)
To make the gravadlax, combine the sugar, salt, dill and a few good grindings of black pepper in a bowl. Put a large piece of foil on your work surface. Onto this put about a third of the salt and sugar mixture. Put one of the fillets, skin side down, on top of the mix then top this with another third of the mixture. Top with the other salmon fillet, skin side up, and cover with the remaining mixture. Pat down so it is all covered nicely and wrap the foil around it to seal the salmon. Keep it in a container in the fridge (Vanessa used a fish kettle, perfect) for four days, turning it over every day. If you don’t have a container large enough, sit it on a tray or large dish to catch nay juices that may drip.
To make the dill cucumbers, cut the cucumber into very thin slices, slightly on the diagonal if you like, so that they are extra long and look good. Put them in a bowl where they will fit compactly in a few layers, sprinkling the dill between the layers. Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt and 2tbsps of water, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour this over the cucumber and cover it. Keep in the fridge for at least a few hours before serving. Transfer to a jar and cover with its liquid and it will keep for up to a week.
To serve the gravadlax, remove the foil and scrape off as much of the sugar and salt mixture as possible. Slice the salmon very thinly, horizontally, and scatter with more fresh dill. Serve with the dill cucumbers and Finnish mustard.
This keeps really well, sealed in a jar, in the fridge for a few weeks. Its fiery fabulousness will perk up a plate of cold meats, sausages or, yes, cured fish no end.
Makes about 300ml/10 fl oz
45g (1/3 cup) hot English mustard powder
115g (1/2 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp salt
250ml (1 cup) single (pouring) cream
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider (or other, white) vinegar
Juice of half a lemon
Mix the mustard powder, sugar and salt together in a bowl, squashing out the lumps with a wooden spoon. Put in a small saucepan over a low heat with cream, oil, vinegar and lemon juice and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring often, then remove from the heat when it darkens and thickens. Stir now and then while it cools and then pour into glass jars, seal and refrigerate.